After a tough 28-14 loss last week to the New York Jets, the Patriots take on a team they are used to defeating in the Buffalo Bills. Remember the last time the Bills actually beat the Patriots? The year was 2003 and former Patriots’ Lawyer Milloy and Drew Bledsoe were on the opposite side in a 31-0 blowout. Since then, New England has won 13 straight in the series and with the way both teams look after two games, there Is no reason why the Patriots should not make it 14 straight this Sunday.
The Buffalo Bills have been proclaimed jokingly by most experts as being already “on the clock” for the 2011 NFL Draft. After their first two games, they look to be heading down that path. They are 0-2 with losses to the Dolphins and Packers. Yes, they have three capable running backs in Marshawn Lynch, Fred Jackson, and dynamic rookie C.J Spiller, but they lack a consistent quarterback that can get the ball downfield to their wide receivers such as Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish.
With the offense lacking a quarterback, new head coach Chan Gailey has made a change at the position that he hopes will spark his team. He has benched third year quarterback Trent Edwards and replaced him with a journeyman out of Harvard University in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has played with the Rams and Bengals and even started for Buffalo last year when Edwards was out due to injury, But, long term, the Bills might be looking at an Andrew Luck or a Ryan Mallett come April.
Here are my keys to the game:
Pressure, Pressure, and more pressure: New England needs to get after quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick early and often in order to win this game. Last year, in a 17-10 loss to the Pats in December, Fitzpatrick had a decent game (17 for 25, 180 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). But, the Harvard grad isn’t a quarterback who likes to throw down the field as often. Last week, the Pats faced a similar quarterback in Mark Sanchez and were able to get four sacks. But, they lacked the consistent pressure in the second half when they needed it the most. If that continues again, look for Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish to make some big plays downfield.
Darius Butler – Last week, the second year cornerback from UCONN struggled at opportune times against Braylon Edwards, which included two critical pass interference penalties. In week one against the Bengals, Chad Ochocinco had a solid game against Butler as well. This is a game where Darius needs to improve against a Buffalo offense that is averaging just nine points per game. He will most likely be matched up with Lee Evans this week.
Get the offense back on track – We saw the quote Tom Brady gave last week, saying that “we just sucked”. Part of that problem was the inconsistency from Brady in the 2nd half. He threw two interceptions, had one fumble, and had a stretch of six straight incomplete passes. He needs to go back to what worked in the first half in terms of working the ball to the slot. Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez had good first halves last week and surprisingly were not used in the 2nd half as often. Buffalo might not have a great pass defense, but they only have given up 209 yards per game through the air in two games. Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee are two of the key corners in that Bills secondary, but they really miss safety Jairus Byrd, linebacker Paul Posluszny and retired defensive end Aaron Schobel, who was a nightmare to Brady last year. Moss will get his touches, but Welker needs the ball early and often.
Kevin Faulk – How will the loss of a key veteran like Kevin Faulk hurt this offense? Faulk was the player New England looked to get the ball to in third down situations. But last week, he suffered a torn ACL and is now out for the season. New England is prepared for this with the acquisition of Danny Woodhead from the Jets last week. Being from New York, I have seen Woodhead through training camp and Hard Knocks. He is a capable third down back who you could line up in the slot or use on a screen pass. However, I would expect to see more of BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Sammy Morris in those situations to get Woodhead used to the offense. Faulk will be missed, but I doubt it makes a huge difference pertaining to if New England can make a Super Bowl run or not.
Prediction; In these type of divisional matchups, you can throw stats and inefficiencies out the window. Remember, last year on opening night, if Leodis McKelvin did not take the kickoff out of the endzone in the two minutes, the Bills would have pulled off a huge upset. However, with the way I saw Tom Brady last week in regards to his anger after the game, I would not want to face a motivated Tom Brady. Expect a big game from Welker as well as the Pats defense as they prepare to play a tough Miami team next Monday night.
Patriots 31 Bills 14